When do I worry about my memory loss?

I feel fuzzy and forgetful. Is this a normal part of menopause?

Yes, there’s a broad range of cognitive change before and after menopause that is entirely normal. And I have to note that we’re only just beginning to understand exactly what happens and why. I recently read an interview with Dr. Richard Isaacson in which he said, “I’m going to give a collective apology on behalf of most physicians out there because when I was in medical school almost twenty years ago, we never learned that menopause causes cognitive changes…. And then we learned that there were cognitive aberrations but it’s fine, just due to, I don’t know, hormones or whatever… it’s not real.”

That’s led a lot of women to believe their cognitive issues are “all in their heads,” and they’re not. In that interview, Dr. Isaacson goes on to explain the various parts of what we think of as “memory”: There’s attention, processing speed, inability to record new information, and more. 

The complexity of our cognitive function is one challenge to clarity; so is our relatively recent and still developing understanding of the role of estrogen. Add that to conditions of aging that occur over the same years we live past menopause, and we get an idea of how difficult it will be to sort out exactly what’s a result of menopause.

Talk to your health care provider any time your cognitive function is interfering with your quality of life. It’s helpful if you can tell her/him some specific examples of what happened in what situations to illustrate your experience. She or he may recommend a treatment, possibly including hormone therapy because of what we’ve recently learned about the role of estrogen in the brain, depending on your overall health history.

In the meantime (and because your health care provider will likely also mention them), you can take these steps to protect and boost your function:

  • Exercise! I recommend it all the time—because it addresses so many issues. Ideally, you’ll do both cardio and strength activities. Exercise is also important because it helps you…
  • Sleep! Think through your habits to see if any need tweaking so you can get the best nights’ sleep possible, especially if your rest is currently interrupted by hot flashes.
  • Stay active physically, mentally, and socially. 

Again, talk to your health care provider if you’re concerned. She or he can take your specific history and condition into account to determine whether there’s anything to be alert for; more likely, your concerns will be allayed (but just be sure your health care provider knows this isn’t “all in your head”!).